The 5 things I learned from studying abroad | Footnotes and Finds

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The 5 things I learned from studying abroad

 Spending full days at the library can drive anyone crazy, even if you love what you're studying

1. No matter how scary it seemed and still seems, I can do it

The first time I moved away from home and settled in the large and fast-moving city of London was at the age of 20. I'm not an emotional person but everything happened so fast that I didn't get the time to digest the fact that I was packing to move away to a place which was quite different than home and not really close in proximity either. A day before I was leaving, after visas, school requirements and forms and the nitty-gritty details of moving away were all settled I panicked--because it finally hit me. Any which way, I made it on the plane the next morning and arrived in London, overwhelmed, anxious and, a little excited. I didn't get time to un-pack properly and was thrown into the swing of the demanding program I was enrolled in. 

It wasn't until the second time that I moved away, again to the UK, that I realized the anxiety that comes with moving never really goes away. But what my first time had taught me was that I could do it and all of the anxieties I had about moving away once at my new home work themselves out. I will get wifi, I will buy groceries, I will be able to find my way around and I will be able to cope with differences. (Being an avid traveller helped me become flexible and adaptable as well!)

Having said that, studying abroad isn't for everyone. So it always might be better to do a smaller exercise in this first. for example, a summer school or a semester exchange to test out the water!

You may remember Kate from my Como + Milan post, we lived together in London way way back when and we are still the best of friends. So when I moved to England again, she came to meet me the weekend after I landed to help settle me in and I made sure to visit her in Italy, where she way working

2. We all have our own ways with dealing with homesickness and showing we miss people

I am human after all, I just have my very stoic way of showing and dealing with emotions. Living away, learning the ropes of a new environment and culture, constantly having to explain yourself to new friends and longing for the simple comforts of home did get to me. But my way of dealing with it was to correspond less frequently with my loved ones at home and focus more on the work at hand. I missed people, don't get me wrong but dwelling on not being home was an obstacle I didn't want to create for myself especially knowing that it would eat up mental capacity i needed to get through a highly demanding program. So I focused on the work at hand and the people around me. I skyped my family every other day and that felt nice. Sometimes I would leave video messages to my sister, updating her on my life and she would do the same...time difference between Vancouver and Oxford is quite the hurdle!

So find a pattern and routine that works for you and stick to it. Having a routine really helps beat homesickness and having a consistent amount of calls helps you adapt to living on your own but remaining in touch with loved ones. 

3. Making new friends is hard but is the most important thing you can do

Having a social network is the single most important thing to have for a happy and healthy mentality. Knowing you have people to depend on, who not only care about you but think of you is vital in feeling good about yourself and to create a positive imprint about the environment you live in. So it is doubly important when you live away to have that. The both times I lived away I was very lucky in that regard...especially since both times I went into it with not expectations of making life-long friendships. But here I am and some of my closest friends are still the ones I made almost 7 years ago even though we live in extremely opposite time zones. 

My master's program in particular would have been very difficult if I had not made the group of friends that I did. Because of the nature of the program we became confidantes, proof-readers, drinking buddies and therapists to one another really quickly. When our program wrapped up we took time to travel with one another, making sure we could be friends outside the bubble of academia.

We made sure to celebrate Canadian and American Thanks giving. Everyone was invited and we all cooked or contributed

I've definitely become much better at darts now. Pub nights and friendly games were something that we used to blow some steam off and enjoy each other's company

4. You have to adapt to living with many different types of people, it's a give and take

I was also lucky to have awesome flatmates--or instant friends-- this is key since your living environment can really affect your experience of living away. If you have unfriendly flatmates you can start to feel anxious about shared spaces. Some of my best friends till this date are people that I lived with and thats how I know we are in it for the long haul. But its all about first meetings and continued effort. Take time out for your flatmates, get to know them better and compromise, remember its their living environment too. Things you are used to doing at home you may not be able to do them in this new environment. We used to have flat dinners or cook for one another. It was a way to keep up to date with each other since we all had different schedules. 

Mostly, be respectful of people and the boundaries they set. Set boundaries, make rules and keep communication clear. We were 8 flatmates in London and we created a cleaning rota in the first week of moving in. We were able to keep the flat clean and avoid the awkwardness of having unclean flatmates. I know people shy away from confrontation but anything said kindly enough in a direct manner is faster in solving your problem and taking you out of your agony than resenting someone on the inside. Lastly, just be nice to each other. Studying away from home is hard so bad days are magnified and sick days are the worst thing ever. Be kind cook for each other, leave each other notes, share your groceries and wash-up for someone. Maybe even knock on the door and ask how they are doing once in a while. Little acts of kindness mean a lot.

This counts as one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done. My flatmate gifted us individually picked books that she felt we would enjoy (she was doing her Masters in Literature) as her parting gift

5. Remember what you moved all the way there for in the first place

It is easy to forget with all the exciting events and all the shiny new people why you are moved to begin with. I maintain that balance is the most important life skill you can have. But always keep yourself in check. Studying is meant to be a full time job. You are meant to attend the lectures and do your work outside of class and that is supposed to amount to the same hours of work as a full time job--believe me education providers have designed post-secondary education with this in mind. So treat it like one. Do your work, go to your classes and then with your free time have some fun. It is never a good thing to be so extreme one way or another because the university experience is so much more than just the books and book -education. I always made sure I spent some hours in the day just hanging out with friends, learning about the city, kicking back watching something or doing an activity I really loved. Living away has the added bonus of learning and experience a whole new culture and country. So make the best of that but don't forget to study!

I took time to travel during my breaks and we travelled together to Montenegro + Croatia and even road-tripped through the Lake district to Corbridge

I also took time out to go to fancy balls and garden parties as the Oxford experience demanded


Have you lived away from home for studies? What did you learn?


  1. Exchange was something I always wanted to do. I'm not sure why I didn't commit. Maybe cost? I did end up au pairing in Germany over one of my summer breaks during uni. I'd definitely encourage my (future) kids to go on exchange.

  2. That's really awesome that you got to study abroad in London! I've always wondered what it was like to be student in uni there. Thanks for sharing your story!

    I am looking for someone to collaborate and guest post with if you're interested :)



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